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The Dangers of Obama-Era ‘Guidance’ on Handling School Discipline

'The Ingraham Angle' goes after a program initiated by Democrat administration — and its ramifications today for kids

Manipulating the statistics on school discipline issues can mean big bucks for districts once the stats tell the feds the story they want to hear, as a piece in Breitbart recently noted. Unless Secretary of Education Betsy Devos can roll back the Obama-era guidelines that encouraged this, the politically correct recipe for disaster could pave the way for yet another tragedy like the one that occurred in Parkland, Florida, on Valentine’s Day.

Shavar Jeffries, a civil rights attorney and president of Democrats for Education Reform, and the Rev. Michael Faulkner, pastor of New Horizon Church in New York City, appeared Thursday night on Fox News’ “The Ingraham Angle” to discuss the devastating impacts of schools’ turning a blind eye to disciplinary problems and to discuss the PROMISE program Florida districts initiated.

“The Obama bureaucrats incentivized Broward [County] … awarding the district nearly $54 million in grants,” host Laura Ingraham explained. “School administrators were basically paid to deal with student crime in-house and keep the cops off the premises.”

“By turning Broward schools and those across the nation into these social justice petri dishes, they may have facilitated a lunatic — and their soft policies have turned our schools into soft targets,” she added.

Last week, Broward County Sheriff Union President Jeff Bell revealed on “The Ingraham Angle” that “they [the school districts] don’t want police officers making arrests on campus … because it looks like there’s bad stats at the school .. When [the PROMISE] program started, we took all discretion away from the law enforcement officers to effect an arrest if we choose to.”

“It’s a numbers game we’re playing, and unfortunately, when you play the numbers game, ultimately you lose. Because those 17 lives that were lost [on February 14 in Florida] can be directly attributed to the lower standards that were created and the setting of the tone that actually lowered the standards on what law enforcement should be involved with,” said Rev. Faulkner.

“When you set a tone and you begin to allow school officials to deal with all of those specific issues, you are setting us up, all of us up, for a catastrophic problem, which we saw,” Faulkner added.

Shevar Jeffries, a supporter of the PROMISE program, said, “The President Obama guidance was designed to deal with minor infractions at the school level, the kind of activities that are the everyday activities we see from kids … These are not law enforcement issues. These are issues where school personnel, teachers, should work to keep [troubled students] on the right path.”

Ingraham supplied a list of offenses that qualify for PROMISE program protections — and at least some of them certainly are issues for law enforcement. Protected offenses on the list included alcohol-related incidents, assault/threat, bullying, disruption on campus, drug-use/possession, drug paraphernalia possession, false accusation against school staff, fighting/mutual combat, harassment, theft, trespassing, and vandalism/damage to property.

“The push here,” said Ingraham, referencing talks she’s had with Broward County parents, “is to minimize at all cost involvement with the police. Because if you show a disparate impact on minority kids vs. nonminority kids in disciplinary matters … you could be subject to a federal civil rights investigation.”

“The atmosphere at that school was keep it on the lowdown, keep this stuff under wraps, because we don’t want to go back to the reputation we had before with 1,000 arrests,” she added.

“If someone is a disruptor, we should worry less about what our reputation would look like if the police get involved and less about disparate impact and more about how to keep the kids in the school — white, black, Asian, whatever they are — safe. It’s not about racism.”

Related: Americans Blame Gov’t More Than Lack of Gun Control for Mass Shootings

It is painfully clear at this point that multiple systems, multiple organizations, and multiple agencies that should have helped prevent the Parkland massacre did not. They failed the 19-year-old gunman Nikolas Cruz, who is in police custody for the murders of 17 innocent people. They failed Parkland, Florida. They failed the country.

And tragically, the outcome wasn’t measured in fewer grant dollars. It was measured in lives.

During the 2011-2012 school year, Broward County had the highest public school-related arrest record in the state, at 1,056. In the 2015-2016 school year, that number plummeted to just 392. How so?

Here’s how. In 2013, Broward County school district adopted the poorly named PROMISE (Preventing Recidivism through Opportunities, Mentoring, Interventions, Support and Education) program under the watch of Superintendent Robert Runcie.

On-the-books suspensions dropped, predictably. But the supposed drop was merely a ruse.

Runcie had worked for Obama-era Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in Chicago.

The goals of the program, on the surface, seem laudable. They include helping troubled kids get the services they need to succeed in school and lowering school expulsions and arrests by reducing police involvement. But the means used to achieve these goals were not laudable. The PROMISE program aimed to reduce the number of reported suspensions and student involvement with the police.

Those numbers went down when the program was implemented all right, but not because the kids magically transformed into angels. The numbers went down because kids like Nikolas Cruz were protected by the school instead of turned over to the police — even when they engaged in arrest-worthy offenses.

Related: Schools Should Keep an ‘At-Risk List of Students Who Exhibit Red-Flagged Behaviors’

Broward’s program, which looked great on paper, apparently inspired the Department of Education and the Department of Justice to craft a policy for the entire country — and demand that public schools embrace similar questionable practices.

Back in November, Max C. Eden, in a piece for the National Review, called attention to the dire situation the “Dear Colleague” guidelines presented for schools. In the January 2014 letter from then-Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, public schools were threatened with the all-too-real possibility of federal investigation if they suspended students of racial group X at a higher rate than students of racial group Y.

On-the-books suspensions dropped, predictably. But the supposed drop was merely a ruse. In reality, schools were faced with an unsavory “Sophie’s Choice.” Either they needed to lie about the number of disciplinary incidents — or they let the kids run wild. In the crazy atmosphere created by the “Dear Colleague” guidelines, the ethical high ground became lying about disciplinary problems faced by our country’s public schools, according to the National Review piece.

Right now, in some school in this country, the next Nikolas Cruz may be crying out for help just the way Cruz, now behind bars, did. This individual may be creating a serious discipline problem that some teacher or administrator has to decide how to deal with the next day.

Related: ‘Give Comfort and Empathy to Any Child Who Is Frightened’

Do educators and administrators risk missing out on federal funds or even having their schools investigated by the DOE and DOJ by suspending a problem student or alerting the police to the behavior? Or do they handle it quietly, in house, without a paper trail — and then cross their fingers and hope for the best?

Both options come with considerable risk.

If Betsy Devos takes action to rescind those “Dear Colleague” guidelines, the choice gets a lot easier, the schools get a lot safer, and parents everywhere will get a lot more sleep.

Michele Blood is a Flemington, New Jersey-based freelance writer and regular contributor to LifeZette.

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